Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Little Mermaid

Yes, I am watching a large number of Disney movies lately, what's it to you?

In a short, and not especially detailed version of a fairly long amount of history, Disney had turned itself irrelevant by 1989, becoming a theme park company and TV studio rather than a film company. Worse still, animator Don Bluth decided to make his own animated movie studio, with blackjack and hookers*, and his films were doing better at the box office. Then the company was almost taken over, Michael Eisner was given the reins, and The Little Mermaid stumbled onto a formula that Disney rode like the town bicycle: make it a catchy musical!

*The presence of blackjack and hookers is unconfirmed and possibly an awkward joke.

Oh, and what a catchy musical! The songs here are plain solid, no question, from the downright hilarious "Poisson Poisson" song to the catchy "Under the Sea" to the very pretty "Part of your World". Disney had gold here, and they learned how to mine that gold pretty consistently for the next 10 years. I sometimes wonder if the film's success might have been partially due to everyone humming "Under the Sea" when leaving the theater.

The Little Mermaid is based on the premise that teenage girls are stupid. Teenage girls ARE stupid, there's no way around this, and teenage boys are just as stupid. People are idiots from about 14-20, I'm sure there's a study confirming this. Ariel, today's teenage girl, is rebelling against her father, because he doesn't let her hang out with humans. Then she spots generically handsome Prince Eric, who she immediately falls deeply in love with and makes a series of increasingly dumb decisions in order to get closer to.

Teenage girls love generically handsome men - witness the current popularity of the Twilight series, or the previous popularity of boybands and people named Corey. In the interest of fairness, teenage boys love attractive ladies who wear only seashells, so it's understandable that our prince falls for Ariel at first glance. It's one of those love stories where you wonder how long it'll last, because hell, this relationship is based on ogling.

I might be down on the film, but while it moves towards a pre-ordained happy ending, it actually is pretty effective at capturing the problem with teenagers. They're rebellious for no reason, consumed by lust and hormones, and very stupid. The villain is evil because she takes advantage of these flaws we humans all share, that being our love of our kids and our immense stupidity in our teenage years.

The happy ending does throw a strange wrench in the gears, simply because there's not really enough of a consequence for their actions. While getting there is inconvenient, they do get married at the end, which kind of confirms their instincts were right. I know of more cases of teenage stupidity where the instincts were wrong from beginning to end, and they didn't end in a pretty ending with fanfare.

Then again, I know of relationships forged in moments of teenage rebellion and idiocy which worked, and 30 years later the couple is stronger than ever. Yeah, it's the exception more than the rule, but maybe it means a story like the Little Mermaid isn't necessarily all wrong. Sometimes love works, even if everyone involved is making ridiculous decisions to get there. The Little Mermaid is just a rare example of raging idiocy working out in the end.

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